December 30, 2021

From Gerald R. Lucas

Stressful Watch covid-19: day 643 | US: GA | info | act

My latest viewing has really stressed me out. Netflix’ The Chair strikes too close to home. Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim is the new chair of a small English department at a liberal arts college who must negotiate between the the expectations of a contemporary world—a mixture of EduCorp and woke culture—and the traditions of academe. Every single conflict in this show seems spot-on. Much of it left me very uncomfortable, stressed-out, and both shaking and nodding my head. It’s a six-show season of half-hour episodes, streamable in one night. The ending is totally believable and pessimistic. The only part that strikes me as dubious is the final decision made by Bill Dobson. The writing and performances here are spot-on. I know all of these people.

Ultimately the conflicts that The Chair addresses are being played out in every institution of higher education across the country to varying degrees. As capitalism’s consumerist-transitional model of higher education displaces the academic model of tenure and promotion, faculty are becoming little more than cogs in the Fordist model of factory “education.” We are waiters caught between middle management and our customers in the classroom, increasingly apprehensive about what we serve and how we serve it. I have written on this before and elsewhere. Georgia’s Board of Regents recently gutted the tenure system in the state: a warning to us faculty troublemakers that (1) the system will not support and unpopular ideas and (2) we can just as easily be fired as a corporate employee. The implications of this change will begin playing out. The Chair shows these new attitudes at work and the English Department will likely be one of the casualties.

If you’re an academic, watch it if you dare.